Our Choir Sings for Saint Francis at Equi Terme

Equi Terme is the first station one reaches on the Lucca-Aulla line after passing through the 7.5 kilometre Lupacino tunnel inaugurated in 1959 and finally completing a railway which was begun in 1892. Railways had reached Equi by 1930 but only from the Aulla side. Kinta Beevor in her ‘A Tuscan Childhood’ describes how, when she was a girl staying with her parents in the imposing Fortezza della  Brunella, the railway only reached as far as Monzone necessitating a pleasant walk through woods and the village of Aiola to reach Equi Terme.

Last night our choir didn’t take the railway but a coach instead since we had to get back the same night, by which time there would be no more trains until the following morning. The coach took us down to Lucca and thence by autostrada through the Versilia. By-passing Sarzana we reached Aulla where we left the autostrada to wind our way up to Equi Terme through increasingly hilly countryside.

Our reason for singing in Equi Terme was to participate in the commemoration for Saint Francis, whose patron saint Equi is and whose name-day is today, 4th October. Saint Francis is also, of course, patron saint of Italy so it’s a doubly important day!

Another reason was to celebrate the life of Signora Vinicia, the Lady of Equi Terme, with whom we always stayed when participating in the presepe vivente (living crib) and who sadly passed away las year.


(Signora Vinicia with Prof. Giovanni Fascetti at Equi Terme)

Here is Saint Francis surrounding by loving birds:

10042015a 047

(Tiled picture in San Francesco Equi Terme)

Equi Terme, the source of a hot sulphur spring which was known to the ancient romans for its curative properties as excavations,revealing the original marble floors prove, is a town described as ‘quaint’ by that late-lamented traveller Eric Newby in his “A small place in Italy”. It certainly is that and more. The spa is well-equipped and has a lovely open-air swimming pool fed by the hot waters. If one is suffering from skin problems, breathing difficulties, gynaecological complications and rheumatic pains then certainly this is the place to visit.


The original hotel was named ‘Hotel Radium’ which, somehow, suggested to me a place where one would depart glowing in the dark. It has since been renamed ‘Hotel Terme’. (See http://www.lunigiana.net/alberghi/hotelterme.htm) Packages combining a stay at the hotel with a course of spa treatments are available.

The points of major interest in and around Equi Terme are the following:

The church of Saint Francis at the top of the old town.


The Solco di Equi – a narrow canyon with its rock walls almost touching each other. It’s a little over half an hour’s walk away.

download (1)

The Santuario Della Madonna – a sweet little chapel about 40 minutes’ walk up a nearby hill where in 1608 the Madonna appeared to two shepherdesses. Whether you believe in visions or not it’s worth attending the festa in honour of the Virgin there on 7th June every year.

The Equi Terme natural park – the whole area is rich in limestone phenomena such as caves with stalactites and stalagmites and underground rivers. The most famous of these is the Teca di Equi Terme where each year the baby Jesus is born as part of Equi’s living crib celebrations. (These are most happily returning this Christmas after an absence of three years due to earthquake damage to the town). A little museum is in this spectacular park which displays relics of cave bears and Neanderthal people.

Our coach arrived in an Equi Terme decorated with chains of lights and little flags.

Event organiser Stefania met us and took us to the local hall where an ample repast of bread cheese and affetttati greeted us together with plenty of drinks, both soft and otherwise.

10042015a 026

We then walked to the church of Saint Francis.

10042015a 054

Our concert was a complete success. The little church of Saint Francis at the top of the hill was most attractively decked out with plenty of flowers. The nave was packed with, it seems, the entire population of Equi and the applause at the end was long and heart-felt. Most importantly, our choir-master Andrea was pleased with our singing.

These were the pieces we sang:

Sollevate o porte – Frisina
Celebra il Signore – Frisina
O Salutaris hostia – Perosi
Pane di vita nuova – Frisina
Ascolta creatore pietoso – Frisina
Gloria – Haydn
Cantate Domino – Hassler
Sanctus – Zardini
Stabat Mater – Kodály

Tollite hostias – Saint-Saens
Trisaghion – Frisina

After the concert we were invited to a further repast, this time consisting of cake and local wine.

10042015a 068

We were then each presented with a copy of a very interesting book written by my friend and erstwhile teaching colleague, Giovanni Fascetti, on Equi Terme and the valley of the river Lucido, beautifully illustrated by his artist father and explaining everything about the area.

We met the local parish priest, a towering personality in more ways than one.

10042015a 071

In this photograph you can see Andrea, Don Guido and Giovanni Fascetti whose love for Equi Terme inspired our choir in its venture to sing there.

10042015a 064

We did not do the autostrada on our return but, instead went directly to the Garfagnana crossing the Carpinelli pass on endlessly twisting roads. As it was past midnight the road was mercifully free from any other traffic.

It’s significant that Equi Terme’s patron saint is Francis for it was he who created the first living crib in 1223 at Greccio.

We hope to see you at Equi Terme at Christmas for its own magical living crib! The presepe runs from 24th to 27th December. Further details are at http://www.presepeviventeequi.com/

10042015a 036

(Banner of Saint Francis in Equi Church)

For more on Equi Terme’s and other presepi viventi see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/no-room-at-the-inn-in-equi-terme/



For the Equi Terme earthquake see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/midsummer-nights-nighmare/

For lovely walks around Equi see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/of-dragons-irises-and-knights/ and at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/magical-mulattiera/

For more on our choir’s presence at Equi terme see post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/of-cribs-and-choirs/

Of Cribs and Choirs

I realise it’s over three months to go before Christmas but the news I heard yesterday, from a friend that had picked it up from the bar in Equi Terme, is really great: the living crib in that town in the Lunigiana is returning this year after two years’ absence (because of earthquake damage to Equi terme in 2013).

We’d always taken part in this spectacular event since we landed in this part of the world and were beginning to really miss participating in it. Here are some photos from 2007, the first year we participated in the event:

I’ll be back in Equi Terme before that since on October 3rd our choir is going to sing in this delightful thermal town’s patron saint festa of St. Francis in the parish church of Saint Francis. We’ve hired a coach to take our thirty-strong choir for the event.


Last night at Ghivizzano church we were busy rehearsing for the concert.

09252015 021

Here’s the programme of what we’ll be singing:

Concerto Equi Terme, 3 ottobre, ore 20.30

1) Sollevate o porte – Frisina
2) Celebra il Signore – Frisina
3) O Salutaris hostia – Perosi
4) Pane di vita nuova – Frisina
5) Ascolta creatore pietoso – Frisina
6) Gloria – Haydn
7) Cantate Domino – Hassler
8) Sanctus – Zardini
9) Stabat Mater – Kodály
10) Tollite hostias – Saint-Saens
11) Trisaghion – Frisina

It’s good to know that so much of Italy can pick herself up and dust herself down even in the face of calamity. I’m sure the Equi terme festival will be a great success and mark another stage on the way to a complete revitalization of the town and its surrounding area.

In the meanwhile, tonight at Bagni di Lucca the butterfly flies again. Yes, the show at the Teatro Accademico celebrating the life of Stefano Girolami, a promising theatrical artist from Bagni, returns.


If you’re in the area do come along for an event which is always entertaining and serves a very good cause indeed as all the freewill offering from the audience will go to supporting medical research into the disease which cruelly stopped Stefano Girolami. from fulfilling himself.

09252015 018

(For last year’s Volo della Farfalla event see my post at


and for the same event in 2013 see



All Dressed up and Everywhere to Go in Bagni di Lucca

There’s so much happening in and around Bagni di Lucca now that it’s truly difficult to keep up with things. There are, of course, web sites and calendar pamphlets but these are often updated, cancelled or lost at home amid the mountain of other leaflets we seem to pick up!

I find a good way to keep up with events is to take a photo of a poster. Just going down Bagni di Lucca high street the other day I came across these in shop and bar windows:

There’s the ever-popular volley-ball competition outside our local parish church at Corsena:

06252015 046

Then there’s a tribute band concert to the Nomadi, one of Italy’ greatest groups founded by keyboard player Beppe Carletti and singer Augusto Daolio in 1963 and still going strong. In fact, it’s one of the longest lasting Italian groups. I don’t know if you’re into Italian pop groups but I like some of their songs very much and learning the lyrics is also a great way to learn Italian.  I also recognise the car…

06252015 050

Daniele Bianchi is presenting his work at the new exhibition space in Bagni di Lucca’ town hall foyer.

06252015 051

There’ll be more bring and buy street sales, tempting people to clear out their attic at the following dates:

06252015 052

I’m not sure if I’d be interested in getting one of these, though they look cute enough when small. I think the cats would also object:

06252015 053

The big patron saint procession and festivities I’ve already mentioned in a previous post:

06252015 054

Barga get an advert in this exhibition by Mara Angeli, a local artist born at Coreglia Antelminelli.

06252015 055

The amazing international music master class and festival is still continuing at Castelnuovo di Garfagnanan

06252015 056

Italians are great at playing the fisarmonica or accordion and there’ a great event showing off this instrument at Coreglia.

06252015 057

Thi one advertises Maestro Christopher Dyer, director of Music of Cambridge University. Actually, Christopher is director of music at Sevenoaks School, (founded 1432), just south of London, which has an enviable reputation for its high standard of music making. I think what they meant here is that he graduated from Cambridge University.

06252015 038

It may not be King’ s College (my old college) choir but the event’s going to be a must for me – just to hear the English choral sound again! Evidently, pupils from this school have been having a summer break for a few years now at nearby Corsagna (not to be confused with Corsena!)…

This is definitely an event I won’t want to miss.

So it’s all dressed up and everywhere to go at the moment here in Bagni di Lucca. And that’s just the start of the summer season!

Great July Programme for Music in Lucca Province


The 48th season of concerts at Pieve a Elici, organized by Massarosa Municipality and Associazione Musicale Lucchese opens with a piano recital by Jin Ju. The famous Chinese pianist, Tuscan by adoption, performs Rameau’s double Gavotte and Variations in A minor and well-known pieces by Debussy and Chopin.

On Sunday, July 12th Pavel Berman, a fine violinist and “Virtuosi Italiani” leader, with Roberto Arosio, piano, performs Grieg’s violin sonata n. 3 in C minor, Schumann’s violin sonata no. 1 in A minor, Chausson’s Poème and Wieniawski’s variations on a theme from “Faust”.

The season’ third event is on Sunday 19th with the great cellist Enrico Bronzi and Lucchese pianist Simone Soldati who perform Bach’s solo cello suite no 5 and Beethoven’s variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fulhen from Mozart’s Magic Flute and his Violin Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69.

download (1)

The events conclude on Sunday 26th July with the young pianist Mariangela Vacatello. The programme includes music by Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, and Ginastera.

The concerts start at 9.15 pm. Tickets are 12 € (10 € reduced; 7 euro for AML members). For information contact Associazione Musicale Lucchese tel. + 39 0583 469960;


This festival continues until July 7th. The International Academy of Music Festival is an event that, since 2003, brings some of the best international chamber music performers to the Serchio Valley. These are the events for July: Wednesday, 1st at 4 pm in the “Boccherini” Institute Auditorium in Lucca, a students’ gala concert will take place, while at 5 pm, in Castelnuovo Garfagnana’s Sala Suffredini, Henry Wang plays piano music by Haydn, Liszt, Ravel and Rachmaninov. The same day, at 9.15 pm at Cardoso, clarinettist Julian Milkis and pianist Natalia Strelle perform 20 miniatures by Kancheli, while tenor Nils Neubert, accompanied on the piano by Yuri Kim, sings arias by Beethoven, Brahms and Puccini.

The following day there will be a concert at the Church of the Capuchins in Castelnuovo at 9.15 pm, with pianist Phillip Kawin with Dmitri Berlinsky, violin, and Efrem Briskin, piano. Friday 3rd at 9.15 pm at Castelnuovo’s Teatro Alfieri the Orchestra della Toscana conducted by Federico Ferri play music by Vivaldi, Martini, Mozart and Telemann.

The evening of Saturday 4th, always in Castelnuovo, while several concerts will be taking place outdoors at the Porta Loggiato and piazza Ariosto, in the Capuchin Church, there’s also a Brahms concert  with Joseph Rosen (clarinet), Berthine van Schoor (cello) and Natalia Strelle (piano) followed by the violin and piano duo of Elena Peres and Yuri Kim.

July 5th at 5 pm, in the Sala Suffredini there’s a recital by pianist Aleksandr Bolotin, and at 9.15 pm the “Boccherini” Institute Orchestra, conducted by GianPaolo Mazzoli, will perform at the Teatro Alfieri, with pianist Jonas Aumiller and Daniel Eras Saborio.

Monday 6th at 5 pm Saborio performs a piano recital in the Sala Suffredini, while in the Church of Cascio at 9.15 pm there’s a chamber concert with Julian Mikis, clarinet, and Gena Raps, piano, Irina Tseitlin violin, Eugene Briskin, cello, and Efrem Briskin, piano. The Festival’s closing ceremony will be held at the Teatro Alfieri on 7th July at 9.15 pm.

Info: http://www.iamitalia.com.



The traditional Festival of Sacred Music, sponsored and organized by Polifonica Lucchese directed by Egisto Matteucci, is now in its thirty-first year. Saturday, July 4th at 9.15 pm in Lucca’s Basilica of San Paolino, the “Johann Sebastian Bach”, women’s choir conducted by Brunetta Ulivieri Carmignani, will perform sacred music from medieval times and also by Marco Antonio Ingegneri, Matteo Adola, Monteverdi, Gounod, Poulenc, Kodaly and Dobri Hristov. The concert is free.


The Puccini Festival in Torre Del Lago, now in its 61st year, presents four operas by Lucca’s composer across sixteen evenings beginning on July 24th and ending on August 31st. They are Tosca, Turandot, Madama Butterfly and Il Trittico.

Tosca (July 24, 31 / 15, 21, 30 August) will be sung by Daniela Dessi, Fabio Armiliato and Giovanni Meoni. Valerio Galli conducts. New theatrical scenarios by Mimmo Paladino. Direction by Vivien Hewitt.

Turandot (July 25, August 16, 23, 29) will be presented with four of the alternative ending of the opera. Puccini’s, with a performance stopping when the Maestro died. Another performance will have Alfano’s first finale version and the other two performances will have Alfano’s second finale version and Luciano Berio’s ending. Singers are Giovanna Casolla (Princess), Rudy Park and Rubens Pellizzari (Calaf), Alida Berti and Valentina Boi (Liù). Bruno Nicoli conducts. On the 28th August there’s a performance by Beijing’s Chinese National Opera House. Production is by Angelo Bertini.

Madama Butterfly (1, 8, 14, 22, 29 August) have singers Svetla Vassileva (Butterfly),  Sergio Escobar and Rubens Pellizzari (Pinkerton), Laura Brioli and Mariella Guarnera (Suzuki); Alberto Mastromarino (Sharpless). Francesco Ivan Ciampa conducts. Stage sets by Renzo Giacchieri.

The season ends on 20th August with Il Trittico with the young talents of the Puccini Festival Academy directed by Massimo Morelli.

The Puccini Festival is also presenting the legendary Spandau Ballet (9th August), a concert by the “Il Volo” trio (12 and 13 August) and Puccini heroines with French choreographer and dancer Julien Lestel (August 18). In the program, as part of the Festival, there are also contemporary art exhibitions and events.

Info and reservations 0584 359322- 0584 427201; www.puccinifestival.it



The Lucca Summer Festival is now eighteen years old and for this wonderful birthday offers for its first event an unforgettable evening with Bob Dylan (who inaugurated it in 1998) and Francesco De Gregori. The two great artists will take the stage in Piazza Napoleone on Wednesday, July 1st at 8 pm in separate sets for a truly memorable evening. The festival continues throughout July in Piazza Napoleone with twelve other events attracting thousands of fans from around the world. Here are the programme details: Sunday 5th (9 pm) John Legend, an artist who has sold over seven million records; Tuesday 7th (9.30 pm) the “Los Lobos” band, an explosive mixture of rockabilly, country, blues and salsa; Wednesday 8th (9 pm) the welcome return of Paolo Nutini, born in Scotland but whose father is from Barga; Thursday 9th (9.30 pm) “The Script” band consisting of three brilliant young Dubliners; Friday 10th (9.30 pm) Billy Idol, great exponent of pop music; Saturday 11th (9.30 pm) another welcome return of a great artist: Elton John with his band; Monday 20th (9.30 pm) evening with MS Lauryn Hill who won five Grammys in 1999; Wednesday 22nd (9.30 pm) Mark Knopfler will be performing with a seven-piece band; Thursday 23rd (9.30 pm) Robbie Williams presents a show entitled “Let Me Entertain You Tour”; Friday 24th evening with two exponents of Italian rap, Fedez and Jax; Sunday 26th (8.30 pm) performance by the New York rocker Lenny Kravitz; Finally on Tuesday 28th (9 pm) concert by Snoop Dogg who has sold over 35 million albums worldwide. Info +39 0584 46477

images (1)

There will also be three free events, all at 9 pm: July 16th, an evening dedicated to Lucca’s talents; July 17 tribute to Pino Daniele and Joe Cocker with Enzo Avitabile and Tony Esposito; July 18th,  live on Rai Radio1, 610 with comedians Lillo and Greg.


The “Città di Camaiore” organ festival, held in the Badia di Camaiore, is now into its twentieth year, enriched, as you may read in LuccaMusica’s “History” section, by the archive from Camaiore’s Arrosti musical family, with music by Marco Santucci and other Camaiore composers which up to now have remained in Rinuccini family ownership and were inaccessible. The start is on Saturday, July 18th with a concert by Stefan Kagl dedicated to the memory of Albert Schweitzer, the great twentieth century scholar and Bach interpreter on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, and continues on Wednesday 22nd with organist Mario Ciferri (see photo) and Tuesday 28th with Enrico Barsanti (all concerts are at 9.15 pm: entry tickets 5 euro). The evening of July 28 will begin at 6 pm and is a celebration of the organ festival’s 20th anniversary, the presentation of the proceedings of the 2010 Study Day that saw the presence of Christoph Wolff and other prestigious scholars and finally a dedication for the acquisition of Camaiore’s Arrosti musical family’s archive. The meeting will also be attended by Lucca musicologist and historian Fabrizio Guidotti. After dinner at 8 pm, a concert by organist Enrico Barsanti follows.

download (2)


Saturday, July 11th, in the Parish of St. Michael the Archangel, Corsanico, the “Corsanico Festival 2015” starts. The opening evening, entitled “From Vivaldi to Beethoven,” features the Cembalorchestra with Nello Salza as violin soloist and conductor. The program includes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Bellini’s trumpet concerto and Beethoven’s Romanza-transcription for trumpet and strings with Michelangelo Lentini as trumpet soloist. Saturday, July 18th, with the “Voce di Assisi”, tenor friar Alessandro Brustenghi and organist Matteo Venturini, perform “il Canto della Lode”, in addition to Saint Saens, Frank, Bizet, Dike, Casini, Morandi, etc.

Friday, July 24, with the title “Journey to Italy” we’ll hear a cultural and musical interlacing with organist Andrea Vannucchi. The programme includes music by Pasquini, Martini, Bach, Mozart and Catenacci. Main protagonist of the festival is Vincenzo Colonna’s historic seventeenth-century organ now known throughout the world. The concerts start at 9.15 pm, tickets cost €. 10 each and events will continue with great artists throughout August. Info: http://www.corsanicomusica.it – ​​grazianobarsotti@libero.it  tel. +390584 954016


The Orchestra Filarmonica Di Lucca’s concert season continues in July under the artistic direction of Andrea Colombini with two great events and with soloists of national and international fame. Wednesday, July 1st, in the Chiesa dei Servi at 9.15 pm, the Grosseto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Giancarlo De Lorenzo accompanies the famous bandoneon player Cesare Chiacchiaretta in a programme of music by Astor Piazzolla for bandoneon and orchestra. Sunday, July 12th, also in the Chiesa dei Servi at 9.15 pm, there’s a symphony program dedicated to Franz Schubert, with his Fourth “Tragic” symphony and Chopin’s first piano concerto with Bulgarian pianist Ludmill Angelov, winner of international competitions and teacher at the Conservatory and University of Sofia. Joshua Zone conducts. Both concerts will be free admission for all residents of the province of Lucca thanks to the Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lucca. To book seats phone +39340 8106042 infoline 10 am -6 pm daily.

download (3)


Monday, July 13th at 9.30 pm in San Luca Palace Hotel’s Sala Catalani (via San Paolino), the “Alfredo Catalani” Friends of Music circle offers a listening guide to Lehar’s The Merry Widow. The listening guide, with free admission, will be with soprano Carla Giometti and accordionist Franco Bonsignori: the two artists will illustrate the plot and perform the most popular songs from the operetta.

Sunday 19th the Catalani Circle is also organizing a trip to Genoa’s “Carlo Felice” Theatre for a performance of The Merry Widow conducted by Felix Krieger and directed by Augusto Fornari with  the theatre’s orchestra and chorus. Information and bookings Tel:  347 9951581.


The Children’s Choir of the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, conducted by Robyn Reeves Lana, will perform on Tuesday, July 7th at 9 pm in the Chiesa dei Servi. To welcome the young American singers will be the choirs of the Torre Del Lago Puccini Festival directed by Sara Matteucci. After Lucca, the Cincinnati Children’s Choir has been invited to represent the United States at Milan’s World Expo, and will be performing in the USA Pavilion under the American flag. The event is part of the “Sui Sentieri della musica (On the paths of Music)” festival organized by “Il Baluardo, Lucca’s vocal group of “The Bulwark” conducted by Elio Antichi. The concert is free.


Saturday, July 4th, in Camigliano parish church at 9.15 pm the first evening of Camigliano’s choral festival will be held. Guest choirs will be the “Polifonica – City of Viareggio,” which celebrates its twentieth anniversary under the masterly direction of Gianfranco Cosmi (a versatile artist who has devoted over fifty years to music, in particular to Lucca) and the “Il rifugio – città di Seregno” choir (see photo) from Lombardy, a group founded in 1966 that has won choral competitions for its interpretation of traditional and mountain folk songs.

Sunday, 5th July the “Il rifugio – città di Seregno” choir, on a visit to Lucca, will accompany Mass with some pieces at 10 am in the church of S. Maria Corteorlandini (S. Maria Nera). Saturday, 18th, in the garden of San Gennaro’s beautiful Villa Bove, as part of “Estate in Villa” sponsored by the City of Capannori, there’s an evening entitled “Poesie e Canti sotto le stelle (Poems and songs under the stars).” Narrator Lorenza Corsini, classical guitar Sergio Berti. The songs will be performed by Camigliano’s “Giacomo Puccini” choir, creating a pleasant blend of poetry and harmony in a splendid landscape.


From July 24 to August 2, in the splendid setting of the Cloister of St. Augustine and the Piazza del Duomo in Pietrasanta (LU), the “Pietrasanta in Concerto” international festival of chamber music returns, directed by Michael Guttman (see photo).The July 28th free concert will be at the Rocca in front of the Piazza Duomo with the Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina conducted by Giuseppe Lanzetta. The programme is available at http://www.pietrasantainconcerto.com and on Facebook and Twitter. In detail the programme is:

Friday, July 24th, “Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the French poet of the piano” with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano; Basle Chamber Orchestra with Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli Jr., conductor. Saturday, July 25th “Paganini and Mendelssohn: Tribute to Italy” with the Chamber Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino conducted by Michael Guttman (Lorenzo Gatto, violin). Sunday 26th “The devil’s trills” with the Moscow Soloists conducted by Yuri Bashmet (Leonard Schreiber, violin). Monday 27th “Two giants of the string quartet: Shostakovich and Beethoven” with the Debussy Quartet. Tuesday, 28th performances by the Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina, free admission. Wednesday 29th, “La voce di Vivaldi” with Dominique Corbiau, countertenor; Fabrice Holvoet, theorbo; Katsufumi Suetsugu, harpsichord and organ with the Moscow Soloists. Thursday 30th Denis Kozhukhin, piano – Yuri Bashmet, viola and conductor. Friday 31st Russian Evening with Boris Berezovsky, piano. Saturday, August 1st, “Sogno di una mezza estate (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)” with Salvatore Accardo.” Sunday, August 2nd, “the Labèque sisters: Four hands, two souls: an historic duo.”


The Honky Tonk Girlz are two girls, two musicians, two all-round artists. Only a guitar, Greta Merli, and a voice, Serena Suffredini, are enough to create a unique and addictive sound. The two have different experiences but manage to fuse them into one explosive mixture of loops, delay and electronic sounds while keeping voice and story at centre-stage. In fact, their style blends acoustic guitar, percussion and melodic line, with electronic sounds and rock. The two musicians, both music teachers, met and decided to develop original arrangements of historical and contemporary pieces for guitar and voice. The HTG have played in many Italian music scenes. After a long time dedicated to the instrumentation and arrangement of covers they have also researched song writing. This is how the four songs, part of the ten songs on the album titled “Metro” published in April 2015, were born.



The second year of the “Giancarlo Bigazzi Prize”, the famous composer of popular songs (see photo) and Oscar for the soundtrack of the movie “Mediterranean”, will be held this year in Lucca on 4th and 5th July, at the Auditorium del Suffragio of Lucca’s “L. Boccherini Music institute.” The contest selections will take place on Saturday 4th, behind closed doors in the presence of only the candidate and the jury. The finale, open to the public, will be held on Sunday, July 5.

The winner will be awarded a plaque and an internship of six days at the Mogol CE, including board, accommodation, photo book and recording of the winning song at CET’s studio. Second and third places will be awarded a plaque, certificate of participation, including radio recording and online distribution.


The “Made in Italy, 3×1”, exhibition of the Scompiglio Cultural association, which takes place at the Vorno Estate, ends in July under the artistic direction of Antonio Caggiano. Saturday, July 4th, starting at 6 pm, there’s “Ars Ludi Concert-Portrait”, a meeting coordinated by Mario Gamba with Alvin Curran, Antonio Caggiano, Rodolfo Rossi and Gianluca Ruggeri. At 7.30 pm there’s a concert with Alvin Curran (keyboards and electronics), Antonio Caggiano, Rodolfo Rossi, Gianluca Ruggeri (percussion) with music by Steve Reich, Luigi Ceccarelli, Giorgio Battistelli and Alvin Curran. Tickets € 12, reduced € 7. Info: http://www.delloscompiglio.org


In July, enrolment is open for the OPEN GOLD masterclass promoted by the “L. Boccherini” Institute of Music with internationally renowned artists.

This is the programme for 2015: Flute with Paolo Taballione (5-8 September), singing with Laura Niculescu (7-10 September), Cello with Raphael Wallfisch (8-11 September), Viola and Chamber Music with Demetrio Comuzzi (9- 14 September) and piano with Wojciech Świtała (10-12 September).

Apart from music courses, on September 5th to 8th and 9th to 14th September the Alexander Technique will be held with Riccardo Parrucci while from 10th to 27th September there will be an orchestral training with Giovanni Bria and GianPaolo Mazzoli. Information: http://www.boccherini.it or at the “Boccherini” Institute tel: + 39 0583 464104; email: info@boccherini.it


The Scuola di Musica Sinfonia promotes a musical summer campus for children aged 6 to 12. The courses, which are held from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 3 pm, provide instrumental, choral, preparatory, English, and musical theatre workshops with weekly time off  to explore the city of Lucca, in a musical journey that will deepen the figure of some of the most famous composers. This is the course calendar: Beethoven week (6-10 July), Verdi week (13-17 July), Mascagni Week (July 20 to 24) and Bizet week (27-31 July). Info: School Symphony, via Nazario Sauro n. 527; tel. 0583 312052 or scuola.sinfonia@tin.it.

Requiescat in Pace

Wouldn’t many of us vain humans like a memorial to be remembered by? The most obvious example is a tombstone somewhere but if one is lucky enough to be a composer, and a good at that, then one’s own Requiem Mass is the perfect answer. It may not be a Requiem in the strict sense of the word. Mahler’s tenth symphony (unfinished) is one supreme example of a swansong. For true music loving Lucchesi it’s Puccini’s “Turandot” where the true heart finishes at the death of Liù (although Puccini did also write an official, very short but beautiful Requiem).

There are so many unfinished swansongs that those composers who are able to sing out their very last notes on the translucent lake leading to the beyond are truly lucky. Perhaps were their swansongs meant to be unfinished? Could Bruckner really add anything to that incredible adagio of his ninth and last symphony, for example? And Schubert’s own “unfinished” symphony – is it really that unfinished?

These are truly metaphysical questions but then I re-read that o so touching letter by one of Constanze’s friends on the death of God’s own musical reincarnation when, with Sussmayr (Eybler, the preferred completer had given up the task) at his side, Amadeus silently mouthed the ending of what became, in his inner consciousness, his own Requiem.

And yet, as that great choirmaster Bacci reminded us introducing yesterday’s performance of this greatest of all swansongs which is a plea to human frailty and a cry to what Adorno described as the absolute scandal of death, Mozart did put a date “1792” on his last written manuscript page, fully believing that he would finish the work, note-perfect to the last bar. After all, if completed his dear wife, who Wolfgang loved with a love that few of us could ever hope to emulate, would get the other half of those guilder promised by the mysterious nobleman whose identity was only discovered as recently as 1964.


(Recently discovered photo of Mozart’s widowed wife, far left, in 1840)

That Requiem indeed was destined to commemorate Count Walsegg’s beautiful young wife who died aged only twenty. A double-heartbreak if there ever was one!

But let’s return to Bacci and his advice to just listen and let this music transport us to a world we can only ever hope to imperfectly envision through the miasma of life.

This was the programme, part of the great season of the Sagra Musical Lucchese:

For one hour we were immersed in music which I almost felt was a pleading for what remains still beautiful in our world and for what this planet may most be remembered for – if there is any supernatural being who would bother to remember it…..

Three strands reunited me to the wonderful concert I’d been privileged to hear a couple of evenings previously. First, the miraculous acoustics of the gorgeous church of the Servite order in Lucca. Second, that incredible Kyrie fugue in Mozart’s Requiem with the same subject of Handel’s Messiah’s “and with his stripes we are healed. “ (Mozart, of course, was a great lover of Handel’s music to which he’d been introduced at one of his friend Baron van Swieten’s evenings. The greatest contrapuntal-melodist, Wolfgang, was encouraged by his wife to write more fugues specially for her. Who ever said that Constanze was just a frivolous butterfly! The third strand was that I didn’t realise that Colombini himself was such a good violinist!

Two of my “caves” were quickly dispelled. The large chorus from Pisa University, around two hundred strong, sang as one highly disciplined body and their size allowed for the most poignant gradations of sounds especially when a smaller group of female voices sang those melting words “salve me fons pietatis”.

The “Dies Irae” (how unfortunate that today’s indulgent Catholic church tries to diminish the terrors of hell which is truly death in life as much as it is life in death) was taken at a fulminating pace but so beautifully ordered and dramatic was the choir singing under the baton of Stefano Barandoni  that the entire audience was stunned into a terrifying stillness at its conclusion.

Just listen to this from last night:

The second cave relates to Sussmayr’s conclusion. For the first time I didn’t find this a problem. The stylistic homogeneity of the whole performance convinced me that Sussmayr was closer to Mozart’s intentions than Alfano ever was to Puccini’s – even if there are at least ten different more recent re-workings to date……

I doubt any other work has been performed so often in the tragic moments of our history. It was performed in 1849 on the occasion of Chopin’s death. It was performed in 1964 to commemorate President Kennedy’s assassination. Of course, it was performed in 1991 in Vienna’s St Stephen’s cathedral to remember Mozart’s death 55 minutes after midnight on December 5th, 1791. The Requiem was also  performed in the ruins of Sarajevo’s great concert Hall by Zubin Mehta in 1994. Perhaps that was the most moving performance of all.

Last night’s performance, however, moved me immensely. Everything came together in it, technical skill, performing inspiration, a quartet of perfectly matched soloists all in top form, a great, incisive orchestra and a superb choir which received the loudest cheers.

It was just another example of how lucky I am to be living so near to Italy’s most heart-fleetingly musical city.

And what did Mozart think about the mystery of death. Already, in that ill-fated visit to Paris, when his mother died and he was forced to write for the instrument he then had little love for but which was to inspire his great life-enhancing final opera, there was a strange premonition:



A flute and harp pursue each other’s flight:

like humming-bird and bee they seek the tongue

of sweetness, inner calyx of love’s night,

and suck a phrase unheard, a song unsung.


Around, insidious plants hide in the dusk,

with putrefying smells and flesh-scarred thorns;

yet here is argent silk and scent of musk

that lighten darkness, draw smiles on scorns.


Dark marble wraps the frozen chapel wall,

a lover’s name enshrined upon a plaque

seducing phrase that glides before its fall,

entwirls, roulades, cascades and then grows slack.


Young man, your head is filled with golden dreams

before your life collapses at its seams.




The saccharine picture-postcard Mozart must too be demolished even if that ghastly film did, at the very least, introduce new audiences to the closest music we are ever likely to approach God with:



A chocolate portrait is what I’ve become,

complete with powdered hair and candied glance;

such gorgeous truffles (yet too sweet for some)

delicious invites to dusk’s carnal dance.

Was I too early or was it just chance

that I escaped from that exquisite slum?

Court posers tremble to be overcome

while my concertos sing and life-enhance.


They’re taking cash on my unfinished scores,

my serenades play at the restaurant

and corporations and effetes embrace

the shade of him whom god alone adores.

Meanwhile, the solemn sound of death’s calm chant

vibrates through worlds of curled perukes and lace.


No, no, no. Perhaps the closest I ever got to the essence of Mozart’s mystery was on a night train journey I took in 1999 just before the new millennium was to open:





Red moon through windows,

lanterns by the farmhouse,

unmeasured night plains.




Her face reflected

against a giant’s circle:

hair caressing glass.




A dragon combs night

apparelled with galaxies

of cosmic jewels.




He follows me still

across primeval forests:

so large this blood moon




Is that a false light

beyond the lairs of eagles

beyond gods eyelids?




The year’s shortest day

burns unpassioned behind peaks

of infinite snow.




Could green ever be

the colour of death’s membrane

the shade of life?




Seized on night’s mantle

this steel-fanged journey has no

beginning no end.


But let’s leave the last word to Mozart himself:

As death (when closely considered) is the true goal of our life, I have made myself so thoroughly acquainted with this good and faithful friend of man, that not only has its image no longer anything alarming to me, but rather something most peaceful and consolatory; and I thank my heavenly Father that He has vouchsafed to grant me the happiness, and has given me the opportunity, (you understand me,) to learn that it is the key to our true felicity. I never lie down at night without thinking that (young as I am) I may be no more before the next morning dawns. And yet not one of all those who know me can say that I ever was morose or melancholy in my intercourse with them. I daily thank my Creator for such a happy frame of mind, and wish from my heart that every one of my fellow-creatures may enjoy the same.



How to See God

Lucca’s greatest contemporary musical impresario, its most versatile conductor, its most energetic interpreter of music too often little known by the lucchese and, most certainly, its most multi-honoured musical ambassador reminded us last night in the wonderful acoustics of the Chiesa Dei Servi, enriched by a wooden coffered ceiling which adds the most exquisite sound nuances to great music, that the second of June is not only a victory for democracy in Italy with the foundation of its republic, now just sixty-nine years old, but is also a similar victory for the United Kingdom with the anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the same June second in 1953. Not only will the Queen become the longest serving monarch this November overtaking even her own great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, but she will also celebrate the world’s oldest constitutional monarchy and parliamentary system.

Which music would Andrea Colombini choose to celebrate this inspiring occasion? No Italian national anthem, no “God save the Queen” (although Colombini did speak the phrases “Viva l’Italia” and “”God save the Queen”). Which composer truly unites a European consciousness with its multifarious strands of Italian melody, British nobleness and German thoroughness? “Il divino sassone”, of course: George Frederick Handel himself.

Starting from a thoroughly north German post-Buxtehudian training, Handel loosened up and expanded his musical language under the aegis of cardinal Ottoboni in papal Rome and thence, by fortuitous accident, finished up in England where he wrote probably his greatest works, and combined Germanic counterpoint with Italian mellifluousness with French overtures with Purcellian sensitivity into a musical language which, while being entirely his own, has long become part of British consciousness among music lovers  and now is becoming ever more internationally loved.

In 1985 we were fortunate enough, during that memorable European year of music, to visit the chapel and the organ where Handel wrote his first “English” works, the Chandos anthems. Here are some pictures from that visit:

Handel’s music touches everybody. Which Welsh ex-coalminers’ choir cannot remember their “Messiah” by heart? What graduate of London’s’ Royal school of music has not taken their part in a Handel opera? What occasion of British military pomp and circumstance has not been ennobled by a Handelian March or trumpet tune?

One of the most encouraging statements I’ve received from my Italian friends was when the young, highly talented conductor of our local choir of San Pietro e Paolo di Ghivizzano stated that he would be ever grateful to me for having introduced him to Handel’s greatness. I was surprised but, of course, very pleased since Handel has coursed through my life’s blood from a very early age. I remember being enchanted by that wonderful larghetto with variation from the 12th Op 6 Concert Grosso when I was barely six and humming it to myself.

Indeed, at school when an eleven year old treble first fumbled his way through the intricacies of “Worthy is the Lamb” to the young bass who helped Mary Datchelor’s girls school, with the cooperation of the local firemen’s chorus, in “Messiah” to the later performances with the Plumstead choral society Handel has ever been a companion to me like my favourite cat, my wife, my greatest loves.

I chose music as one of my school O level subjects and shall never forget my discovery of one of the pieces we studied:  Handel’s “Semele” which combines so perfectly all those European stylistic schools from France to Italy to Germany and, especially, to England and her great Purcell.

In later years the “big band” Handel concert was somewhat superseded by our hearing historically informed performances on a smaller scale and often on period instruments by such departed greats as Christopher Hogwood. Every year one of our treats was to listen to a Handel opera, either at Sadler’s wells or in the Britten Theatre. In Italy too we were so lucky to have captured the greatest of baroque opera composers in the main courtyard of the palazzo Pitti in an unforgettable performance by Musica nel Chiostro.

But to return to “La Gloria di George Frederick Handel”, as the concert was entitled. Not Handel’s “Gloria” which he wrote while still a stripling in Rome but the “Glory of Handel”.

Audiences are, hopefully, now mature enough to appreciate both historically informed and big-band Handel. Andrea achieved the rarely realizable task of combining the two stylistic strands in an evening which also accomplished a wonderful fusion of Italian elegance and British pride which combine so appropriately well on that memorable date, June 2nd.

No added orchestration by Ebenezer Prout and his Ilk infected the performances. Not even any soft modifications by the near-God Mozart. Instead, a thorough understanding of pace, balance, timbre and eloquence informed the entire evening’s performance.

This was the programme:


Of course, we all had our favourites. On the singing front I found mezzo-soprano Alessia Bandinotti particularly moving, her voice darkly regretful – almost a contralto I should say. On the orchestral side the trumpets were absolutely superb and so were the horn players.  Winton Dean in his book on Handel’s Dramatic masques and oratorio’s strangely demeans “The Trumpet shall sound” but the trumpet player of the Orchestra Philharmonic di Lucca together with bass Romano Martinuzzi gave it an added élan which almost made it sound as white-knuckling as that most exhilarating of passages from “St Cecilia’s day ode” sounding a truly clangourous trumpet and a doubly double-doubling drum.

Two encores had perforce, to follow and they were clearly the audience’s favourite items:” Zadok the priest “, which reminded us again of the importance of yesterday’s date to subjects north of the English Channel and the Hallelujah chorus which, this time round, we were allowed to relish sitting down.

As the great man said when he composed that chorus:  “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself”. We didn’t quite see all that that last night but as we wandered through the beautifully full-moon lit streets of a midnight Lucca we realised that not only our Handelian hearts had been softened by the glorious music gloriously performed by Colombini and his felicitous band of musicians but that those citizens of Lucca fortunate enough to attend had now realised the true worth of the “divine Saxon”.

Incidentally, Handel’s really made me travel both musically and physically, I motorcycled to his birth house in Halle in 2001. Some years ago I wandered down Fishamble Street in Dublin where “Messiah” was first performed. London’s Foundling hospital contains much Handel memorabilia. Rome, of course, witnessed the first performance of his magnificent vespers in the Barberini palace.

Next time I’m in London I’ll have to step once more inside Handel’s house now saved for the nation. I wonder what the G. O. M thought of his last days on this planet? Perhaps this?



I am old, worn out and now gone blind too

from writing many notes. A deal of stuff

flowed from my brain. Eternally, I’m through

with all this fine music – I’ve had enough.


Once-young man in the Cardinal’s service

– choice place Italy and her sopranos

desirable – bright and not yet obese,

I was feted as genius among beaux.


Then England and qualified success,

nobility’s pretensions (no knighthood),

but a most convenient Mayfair address

near Corinthian gold and God’s common good.


Yet I hear cash plagues you as it did me,

my dear house up for grabs: how else could be?



What more can I add to this post? Only some words from other admirers…..

Beethoven:  “Handel was the greatest composer that ever lived.  I would uncover my head, and kneel before his tomb.”

King George III “Handel is the Shakespeare of Music.”

George Bernard Shaw: “Handel is not a mere composer in England: he is an institution.  What is more, he is a sacred institution.”

 download (3)

As we drove back home the new bridge over the Serchio was lit up like a transcendent vision – it was truly a bridge between brother and brother, between God and man, on this auspicious day.

06032015 053

Thank you Andrea and thank you Handel!

A Star of a Place

Yesterday, Sunday, our choir of San Pietro e Paolo di Ghivizzano made its annual pilgrimage to the beautiful sanctuary of the Madonna Della Stella to participate in singing the 5 pm Mass on the last day of the month devoted to Marian worship.

06012015 031

The sanctuary is between Gallicano and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana and near the town of Fosciandora. I’ve already written two posts about the sanctuary.(see  https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/a-stellar-occasion/ and  https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/back-to-the-star/). There’s no harm, however, in repeating some of the things I’ve mentioned previously.

Why is there a sanctuary here anyway?

What would you do if in the course of restructuring an old ruin you discovered a fresco of the Virgin Mary? In 1798 the Raffaeli family bought up the remains of an ancient oratory (dating back to 1100) with the intention of converting it into an orangery (or “limonaia” as one would say in Italian). As the builders were stripping one wall they found behind the plaster an image of the Madonna showing her as she was praying at the moment of the Annunciation by the Holy Spirit in the company of a star and a dove. This discovery was regarded as a miraculous occurrence – the Raffaeli gave up their plans for the orangery and instead rebuilt the old oratory.

For many years the church was the centre of devoted pilgrimages and survived enemy fire when it was on the front (gothic) line during the winter of 1944-5.  But, in recent times, it fell into some neglect and abandon, mainly due to lack of staff. Fortunately, a few years ago an arrangement was reached whereby the sanctuary would be cared again and opened to pilgrims once more by a committee headed by the ODM (Order of the servants of Mary). Moreover, the old monastery is being re-structured to provide a holiday camp for less able young people.

06012015 029

Saint Bernard said “look at the Star and call on the name of Mary” and, indeed, the sanctuary is known as “la Maria Santissima Della Stella”. I am so glad to have been able to help in the reawakening of this beautiful shrine by singing in our choir.

The fresco of the Madonna is truly moving in its naivety and the sanctuary’s situation is glorious.

06012015 013

But for me the real wonder of the building is its pair of entrance doors, so skilfully carved in pear wood by a certain Carli in 1930. The panels represent important religious icons of particular Luccan relevance (for example il Volto Santo of Lucca) each one in its own separately designed frame. What a marvellous piece of work and what patience and time they must have taken to produce!

As customary we discovered we’d sung very well for our tea which was taken in an upstairs room on a table crowded with the most delicious cake, quiches, and drinks.

06012015 002

It was good to meet old friends and also meet some new ones too! Here’s our choirmaster on the right meeting up with his old school teacher.

06012015 016

Now that rang a bell with me since only a couple of days ago I too met up with my old school teacher not so far away!

05302015 023

Are teachers like sailors I wonder? They’ve certainly done an excellent job in navigating us so well through the straits and narrows of life’s whirlpool.

06012015 019

(a detail of a ship being saved by the Marian star on the vault of the sanctuary)

How could such peaceful places once have been theatres of war – I thought of my wonderful trip, long ago, to that massacred, tortured country which is Syria today.

Outside the sanctuary is a statue of the Madonna and, next to it, a plaque commemorating the anniversary of her apparition at the council of Ephesus (which ancient site we’d visited some years ago) just north of Syria, in 451